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The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith Paperback – November 21, 2003
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"Scott Oliphint rightly emphasizes that the Christian can never put the Bible aside, for Scriptures sets the standards for everything we do, including apologetics. He analyzes some of the most important Bible passages for apologetics and points us to many more. Clear and non-technical, this is a helpful addition to the literature of presuppositional apologetics." --John M. Frame
"Most of us who want to be faithful witnesses know we needbut often lackthree things: a clear understanding of the truth, the ability to express our message persuasively, and confidence that the gospel has nothing to fear in the intellectual market place. As a skilled seminary professor who has also served in the trenches of pastoral and evangelistic ministry, Dr. Oliphint is well qualified to give us just the help we need." --Sinclair B. Ferguson
"An excellent primer on apologetics. Unlike others writing in this area, Oliphint underscores how Gods revelation is at the heart of apologetics. He demonstrates how we are to use reason, logic, and persuasion in reliance on the Word and Spirit. Defending the Christian faith is not something that only a privileged few can do. Readers will reap much benefit from this extremely readable book." --Charles Dunahoo
About the Author
K. Scott Oliphint (M.A.R., Th.M., Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is associate professor of apologetics at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia. He has written numerous articles on apologetics and is coauthor of If I Should Die Before I Wake: Help for Those Who Hope for Heaven.
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If I am being really honest I always knew that I had not really thought about the whole issue of apologetics biblically. I had read plenty of books but spent little time in God's word, so when I read the start of the preface to BBL I got a rekindled interest - "This book is meant to be an introduction - and a beginning - to a lifetime of defending and commending the Christian faith. Its goal is to point you to biblical principles that will provide a foundation for that task." I purchased the book on the strength of this statement.
Oliphint goes on to say that "[t]he purpose of this book is to get us to open our Bibles again when we think about apologetics." This stands in great contrast to the prevailing thought on apologetics which is that "reason, not revelation, is the proper source of truth for our apologetics."
Oliphint makes good on his claim to look at the Bible as each chapter is essentially a clear and challenging exposition of some key apologetical portions of Scripture (making an excellent set of readings for a week):
Introduction - 1 Samuel 17
Chapter 1 - 1 Peter 3:15-17
Chapter 2 - Jude 3
Chapter 3 - 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Chapter 4 - Romans 1:16-18
Chapter 5 - Romans 1:19-32
Chapter 6 - Acts 17:15-34
Dealing with 1 Samuel 17, Oliphint likens apologetics to a spiritual continuation of David's battle with Goliath (is this a valid application of the story?) with the key truth being - the battle is the LORD's. Because it is the LORD's battle, it is to be waged in his way. Saul clearly forgot this, his vision obscured by a worldly perspective, but David saw the reality. Oliphint goes on to describe three principles that David applied in his battle and that we should apply when defending the faith:
1. David's reason for fighting - Goliath had defied the LORD of hosts (v45). David was willing to fight because his LORD had been challenged.
2. David's purpose in the fight - That all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel (v46). That all this assembly may know that the LORD saves (v47). The LORD saves not with sword and spear (v47)
3. David's weapons for fighting - "What is needed in the LORD's battle are weapons that will cause people to bow down, to bend the knee and acknowledge that the LORD, and he alone, is God. Only supernatural weapons can accomplish that task."
In Chapter 1 Oliphint sets the context before looking specifically at 1 Peter 3:15-17. He summarises the early portions of 1 Peter as follows, "Persecution should cause us to remember at least two things. It should cause us to remember that this world is not our home, and it should cause us to remember to set our minds on things above, where Christ is (Colossians 3:1-2)."
The foundational point that Oliphint draws from 1 Peter 3:15 is that we should set Christ apart as Lord in our hearts. What would be the point of defending the faith if Christ was not Lord? I could stop this review here because the challenge is obvious. If I find it nearly impossible to share my faith and defend it maybe I have not yet bowed the knee to the Lord. Perhaps my fear when thinking about doing apologetics means that I need to repent of my sin and turn to trust in Jesus. Maybe the reason the people don't ask me about the reason for the hope that is in me is because they don't see any hope. Maybe I find it difficult to talk about the faith with gentleness and respect because I'm defending something I have no confidence in. Who would have thought that a book about apologetics would be driving to my knees to cry out to the Lord after just one chapter?
In Chapter 2 Oliphint helpfully deals with apologetics within the church. Using Jude 3 as his main point he deals with the reality of error, falsehood, heterodoxy and the like amongst God's people, the possibility of which is proved by the examples of Cain, Balaam and Korah (Jude 11). These three examples from the Old Testament highlight the dangers of false teachers.
He goes on to explain the nature of the `contending' or `fighting' we are to be engaged in. I think Oliphint could have elaborated on the risks that sinful creatures bring even when they try to contend for the faith. For example, how do we know that we are contenting for the faith and not simply trying to get our own way? How does contending intersect with humility, loving one another, seeking the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace etc? However, he helpfully discusses what `the faith' is. Essentially, `the faith' is the body of truths or doctrines we come to believe when we trust in Christ i.e. the gospel. For example, the truth of Scripture, the existence of our triune God, Jesus' incarnation, sinless life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return. If this is what Jude meant by `the faith' then fighting for a Bible version, head coverings in corporate worship, certain musical instruments and so forth is NOT fighting for the faith.
In Chapter 3 Oliphint takes the reader to 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. In the last four chapters of 2 Corinthians Paul is defending his gospel ministry against some who thought him to be insignificant and rather unskilled when compared to other wise orators (Sophists?). But 2 Corinthians 10: 3-5 contain truth for all Christians. Paul's opponents were using weapons of the flesh - techniques that were only as good as the man - but Paul, and all Christians, can use divine weaponry (see Ephesians 6:10-20). Oliphint says "Apologetics, in many ways, is simply a battle over authorities. It involves making plain just where we stand, or better, where we rest, with regard to what we claim. It also involves encouraging our opponents to make plain where they rest their own case. The issue of authority is always primary."
It may not be every Christian's desire to study philosophy and the lofty theories it presents but we can all study Scripture and rest in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ. Such resting is only possible if we have put on "the belt of truth", which Oliphint says is a Christian worldview. He states that this may be the most important divine weapon in the Christian's arsenal. When we engage in battle we must determine what the reality of the situation is.
In Chapter's 4 and 5 Oliphint deals with Romans 1 and this is perhaps the heart of the book as far as real apologetics is concerned. Romans 1 gives God's perspective on unbelief. As Oliphint says "It gives us an infallible explanation of the unbelieving mind or heart." Again, this causes us to face the issue of trust. Do I trust God and his word enough to believe the infallible perspective of Romans 1?
Oliphint contends that Romans 1:16-18 are crucial for understanding the rest of the chapter. In v16 Paul is making claims about the power of the gospel and the fact that he is not ashamed of it. This is important for the Roman Christians who live in the shadow of the vast Roman Empire. Were they tempted to loose hope in the gospel because of its seeming insignificance? In v17 Paul claims that the power of the gospel is located in the fact that it reveals the righteousness of God. This is seen supremely in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross to take our deserved punishment. Oliphint summarises his thoughts on Romans 1:16-17 by stating "the gospel must be firmly understood before we can begin to launch into the deep waters of unbelief. These two key verses, 16 and 17, must therefore be anchored in our hearts as we plan, by God's grace, to stand against the tidal waves of unbelieving thought."
Romans 1:18 is then discussed as it deals with God's revealed wrath. God's wrath flows from his holy character, of which the law is an expression, and therefore he must defend his law and character when we sin. "When the Bible speaks of the wrath of God, it is speaking of his response to man's response to his law." Romans 1:18 ends by stating that we all suppress the truth. This statement will become clearer when we know what the `truth' is and why we suppress it.
In Chapter 5 we get a fuller discussion about God's wrath. Oliphint states that Romans 1:19-32 are Paul's explanation of why and in what circumstances God responds in wrath, rather than in grace and mercy. The truth that we suppress is revealed by God and evident to all. But what are we supposed to know (and suppress)? Romans 1:20 says "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." This is rather definite knowledge and Oliphint says that "Paul is not saying that we all have some idea that there is a god somewhere." He continues "we should not pass over lightly the weight of Paul's analysis of unbelief here. He is telling us that there are no true atheists. To be sure, someone will say in his heart (as the psalmist reminds us), "There is no God" (Psalm 14:1). But the psalmist calls him a fool, at least in part because he says in his heart what is obviously not the case ... Atheism, we can now say, taking into account what Paul has taught us, is simply suppression of the true knowledge of God."
Oliphint rightly points out that everybody is in a relationship with God but not all are in a saving relationship. Those not savingly related to God are without an excuse (Romans 1:20). So what does this mean for a Christian who is explaining the gospel? I want to quote Oliphint at length because what he writes is profound:
No matter how intimidating, or how articulate, or how sophisticated they may be, the arguments raised up against Christianity are not capable of a reasoned defense. This must be burned in our hearts: Any and every position that is opposed to Christianity is utterly indefensible.
Of course, when we step back and think about it, we know this to be the case, if we are Christians. We know that Christianity, and Christianity alone, is true. We know this by the grace of God, not by our own wisdom. But we do know it. Any position, therefore, that stands opposed to Christianity is necessarily false. And a false position is false, in part because it is unable to deal with the way things really and truly are. A false position or statement attempts to say something about the world that is simply not true or real.
So those who suppress the knowledge of God in unrighteousness are in the business of constantly denying what is real, what is true. The world they see with sinful eyes is not the real world. It is not the world where God reigns in Christ. It is not the world where our purpose is to glorify him and enjoy him forever. It is a false world, where something reigns besides God and where we are meant to glorify our own desires and wishes.
I would have liked Oliphint to have written more about potential objections to the truth that all know God as he is revealed in creation, perhaps an appendix so as not to interrupt his flow too much.
Given that we have all suppressed the knowledge of God, how does this play out in our lives? Romans 1:21 shows that those outside of Christ lead a life of ingratitude to God, but probably with gratitude for themselves which turns into boastful pride (v22). This is one reason why the Christian will be marked by humility and dependence on God. Oliphint says that "In our wickedness, we exchange the one we ought to worship for something else that we would rather worship." Every living person cannot cease to be worshipping and serving. If it is not God it will be something else. The implication of this for apologetics is clear, "[w]hat will he think if you come to him and tell him, as we do in apologetics and in the preaching of the gospel, that he must give up his worship and service of that created thing?"
In Romans 1:24 Paul begins to explain what the wrath of God looks like. The phrase "God gave them up" implies that whatever restraint God is using to stop people be as evil as they cold be will be lifted. As Oliphint states "When God lifts his gracious restraints on people who refuse to acknowledge the revelation of his character in nature, these people will begin to pervert and distort the very nature that reveals God in the first place. They will do this in an attempt to further suppress the truth. If they could (though it is quite impossible) blot the natural out completely, then they would be done with the revelation of God in it. In an attempt to destroy that revelation in nature, they distort the natural to the point where they hope it will be unrecognizable. If it is unrecognizable, then God will not be seen so clearly in it." How might this help us think about relationships, sex, genetic engineering and so forth?
Romans 1 ends with the claim that everybody knows God's decree i.e. what God requires of us. We know when punishment is deserved but we then try to justify our sin and encourage others to engage in it also. Oliphint puts it well saying sinners "become activists and picket and petition for their own wicked causes." All of this means that what we see in ourselves and in the world around us is often suppressed truth and revealed wrath. But do I as a Christian trust God's word enough to believe all of this?
If we understand that all people know the God of whom we speak, if we know that they know the truth, then we will never feel as though the truth that we defend, and that we communicate to them, is irrelevant. They may act as though it is irrelevant. They may act as though they have no interest at all in the discussion. But Paul tells us that that is exactly what they are doing - acting. They are putting on a false face in an effort to destroy the truth that they know and that you are communicating to them in your apologetic.
Divine psychology is infallible. It describes exactly what goes on in the human mind. When that psychology is applied to the unbelieving mind, our only option is to trust it completely. All people know God - that is the truth of the matter. When we defend the faith, we speak to people who are not ignorant of our God. Our apologetics must take that into account when we are called upon to defend the faith.
In the final chapter of BBL Oliphint explains Paul's encounter with idolatry in Acts 17. Again, at the outset Oliphint has framed his exegesis in such a way that I am challenged to the core. He says "There are idols in every culture and in the life of every person who is rejecting the knowledge of God given in the world. Seeing those idols should motivate us to engage in apologetics. Paul was not content to hole up at the Athens Hilton until his friends arrived. He was moved to action because of what he saw in that city." Do I feel as much desire to have the truth known in my pagan culture? I personally tend to let idolatry drift past or I tolerate it to the point that I become comfortable with it.
Oliphint claims that in Acts 17 Paul wanted to persuade his audience of three things: who God is, who they are in light of this God, and what the gospel is. This may seem like a tall order when facing the great thinkers of the day. But Oliphint says "No matter how intelligent or skilled the unbeliever is, you will always have wisdom and knowledge that he desperately needs to hear." What a challenging thought! I have to admit that my initial reaction is to laugh at such a statement. But why might that be? Perhaps I do not trust the wisdom and knowledge God has revealed.
Appendix discusses the role of the Holy Spirit in apologetics. It is so good that I will defer including an overview of it in an already bloated review. An excellent resource of Scripture for apologetics is provided in Appendix 2. This would make a great place to start your devotional Bible reading.
BBL is not a dry philosophical tome. Oliphint is driven by gospel concerns when he says that "[w]e dare not simply think that our responsibility in apologetics is to show that some deity might exist somewhere. Our responsibility is to tell the truth, the truth about Christianity, including the truth that God now "commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). We seek and desire, in defending the faith, to see a change of mind in those to whom we speak." Amen.
I think Oliphint has succeeded in giving the reader biblical principles for a lifetime of defending the faith. If applied, the lessons in this book could be the start of something amazing amongst Christians as they trust wholeheartedly in the infallible and sufficient Word of God.
The author has taken passages of scripture and demonstrated their apologetical import. In so doing, he shows us the necessity of every Christian to be a student of Scripture. Apologetics, we are shown, is not a matter of "method", but of being able to rightly divide the word of God and properly placing our faith in Him as we defend.
This book is written in a very winsome, pastoral manner making it accessible to even the most "novice" or young Christian.
After reading this book, you will walk away encouraged in your faith and grateful that you have been called into such a battle. Your faith will be strengthened because you will be better acquainted with the God of your faith. You will be motivated to share and defend the gospel of Jesus Christ, for His sake. Your appetite for the study of scripture will be whetted, as the author unfurls in each chapter the robust depth of passages we might otherwise believe we are familiar with. And finally, any lack of confidence and/or competence will be allayed as you will be convinced that the battle belongs to the LORD and the outcome is assured.
From cover to cover, Oliphint makes it clear that apologetics does not hang by the slender thread of a single verse, but is actually rooted in multiple passages in multiple contexts. Similarly, while showing apologetics to be part of the very warp and woof of biblical revelation, so he also helps us to see how we must allow the Bible to control and direct our apologetic encounters. In this way, Oliphint seeks to rejoin what has too often been separated.
Predominantly expositional in style and distinctly Presuppositional in outlook, The Battle Belongs to the Lord explores a number of foundational passages for apologetics and teases out their implications for our defense of the faith today. Clearly written, easy to read and intended as an introductory text, this volume would be a suitable primer for undergraduate classes studying apologetics. In addition, it may profitably be given to those uncomfortable with or discouraged by apologetics on the grounds that it is too philosophical and too speculative.
While I would argue that some themes deserved further development and some assertions ought to have received a more nuanced and guarded explanation, nonetheless, I am happy to commend this title as a good introduction to reformed apologetics and one of too few books that explicitly weds our defense of the faith to the Word of God and to the work of His Spirit.